When we walked through the doors of the ER we were greeted by that look I’m so familiar with; the look that says “Surely all those people are not one group? Surely they are not all related?” My oldest daughter worked at a Wal-Mart as a cashier in her teens. She once saw me come in and move down the walkway along the cash registers with all of her siblings. I remember her telling me that it looked like I moved with an “aura of children” around me. I don’t think she ever paid me a higher compliment. That was basically all I ever wanted in life: an aura of children around me. I always had a mental picture of a school of little fish swimming around a big fish when I walked anywhere with all my children. They moved around me like we were in our own little fish tank of water; close to me, bumping into me, moving away from me, lagging behind me, a few steps in front of me, only to slow again and bump into me, lag behind me, move ahead of me, constantly. I was like the nucleus of our own little atom; they the floating protons and neutrons. I enjoyed those days immensely. We all -Dan and I, Kim, Joe, Caitlin and Elijah, Tim and Beth – entered the doors of the ER like that that day.
We were escorted to the Family Room to wait for the doctor who attended Izzy to come talk to us. We filled that tiny room, some of us sitting and some standing because there weren’t enough chairs. The air was thick with sorrow, feeling and sounding like the dullness you hear when your head is underwater. The doctor came in, looking sorrowful himself, offered his condolences and began to explain to us what he had done to try to save Izzy. I remember him saying that he “used every available medicine in his medicine cabinet” to try to save him, only to get an occasional weak pulse and low blood pressure. They worked on him for an hour. I felt sorry for the doctor, as I’d felt sorry for the deputies and the investigating officer who came to our house earlier that day. What a horrible thing to have to do – tell someone their son or brother had not survived a car accident and was no longer with us, the living, here on earth. The doctor then tried to prepare us for seeing him, explaining that there were tubes in his chest, and other things that I don’t remember right now, then stressing to us that we could not touch him because there would be an investigation. He left us with a nurse and a chaplain to be escorted to where Izzy’s body was.
We followed the nurse in a silent procession down the hallway. As we walked along, our eyes were drawn to a change in the hallway as the off-white concrete wall on our right changed to a glass wall with a black curtain drawn across the windows. There were a couple of gaps in the curtains and we saw him through the gaps as we approached the doorway into that room. Time slows to a crawl in my memory of this moment in my life. The first glance of him propped up slightly in a bed raised to about waist level, three or four more steps, another glance of him before the doorway into the room, we turn the corner and are in the room with him, with his body. I remember our oldest son, Joe telling us later that day about those first glimpses of his brother as we walked along that hallway. He said he saw him and his heart skipped a beat, we walked further and he saw him again and his heart skipped another beat. Then we entered the room and he knew he wasn’t there. I think that was the feeling we all had; he’s not here. We were in the room with a body we were all so familiar with and we knew he wasn’t there. In my memory, we all moved into the room in the same way we moved along the aisles in Wal-Mart; invisibly connected and flowing together and apart from each other like we were floating in the water, but this time around a different nucleus – Israel’s body. The nurse who had led us here was still with us, along with the chaplain, a very young-looking man trying to look older and wiser than his years. The nurse seemed to me to be a bit too happy for the circumstance. All smiles and bubbly chatter. The chaplain tried to give us some words of comfort and faith as we gazed at Izzy’s body, then looked away, then gazed again. I remember the nurse telling us that we could touch him, so I touched his beautiful face and ran my hand down the hair on top of his head. He hadn’t washed his hair that morning. It was greasy feeling. We listened to the nurse chatter and the chaplain try to sound profound for a few minutes while we gazed at him, cried, sniffled, touched his face, walked around, touched his knee, cried some more, gazed upward and felt like he was “up there”, not here. We were caressing what we’ve always known of him, but he was not in there, he was up there. At one point I was standing beside Dan, next to the bed Izzy was lying on, and I heard him say, “He’s not here. Look up.” We talked about that later in the day, and he told me had no idea he’d said that out loud. But, I very clearly heard him, and I knew at the time that he was sensing and speaking what we all knew. He was “up there”.
After a few minutes of listening to the chaplain and nurse, I asked them if we could have some privacy to pray with each other. They left the room and I prayed for the second time that day the only thing I could pray: “Thank you, God, for the 25 years you let us have him. I give him to you. He was never mine, anyway. Thank you that he is with You, now.” I knew I wasn’t really “giving” him to God, but I needed to verbally release him to God. I’ve had to do that many times since that day. Sometimes I take it back and I’m angry that I have to do it again – release him to the Lord. He belongs to God, anyway. I might as well try to come into agreement with Him.
After we prayed we decided we needed to leave. There was such a strong sense in all of us that he wasn’t there, so there was no point in hanging out with his body. To this day, I wonder why I didn’t stay with him longer. I wish I had. But, I think I would still feel like this, even if we had stayed longer. He clearly wasn’t there. What I’m wishing for is him, not more time with his lifeless body. I miss him.
As we walked past the foot of the bed on our way to the door, I lifted the sheet to see his feet. He had on dirty-looking socks. His socks always looked dirty from walking around in them like they were his slippers. This day was no exception. My beautiful boy in his dirty-looking socks.